How to confuse the media and public: Butter ’em up

A few months ago the rapturous reporting of a new study on saturated fat caught my eye. Sounded too good to be true, and, well, long story short, that's exactly what it turned out to be.

Here's the opening, from the USC Annenberg/California Endowment's Reporting on Health site:

Time to jump on the bandwagon of saturated fat? 

Read the headlines about diet this year and you could easily think, "Why not?"

"Butter is back" said the New York Times in a headline on Mark Bittman's March 28 column. In his opening, Bittman sounded joyful, almost giddy, at the prospect of eating unlimited amounts of saturated animal fats: 

Julia Child, goddess of fat, is beaming somewhere. Butter is back, and when you’re looking for a few chunks of pork for a stew, you can resume searching for the best pieces — the ones with the most fat. Eventually, your friends will stop glaring at you as if you’re trying to kill them.

"Eat Butter," read the cover of Time, headlining a lengthy cover story in June by science writer Bryan Walsh.  

"Butter is bad — a myth," declared Joanna Blythman, of The Guardian. 

This surprising development in dietary medicine made headlines around the world. Almost unnoticed in the aftermath was the strong pushback from the international research community. 

Perhaps the pushback didn't make headlines because it wasn't what lovers of cheese, meat and butter wanted to hear. 

The interesting thnig about reporting this piece is how surprisingly willing leading experts were to actually talk. I queried one leading researcher in Cambridge, expecting if lucky he might respond to an email, but he asked to talk on the phone. For which I remain grateful.

Perhaps health issues bring out the good in people. Even if sometimes misreported.


Note: I think it's fair to point out that this story on the Reporting on Health site turned out to be unexpectedly popular — seems to have hit a nerve. Always great to hear people are listening. 



Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

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